So… were YOU able to care for Cayden? I hope so!
Today I will tell you more about his early communication methods besides the obvious vocalizations and whining, so maybe you will feel more prepared to watch him for us!
We went through a series of more and more complex switches with Cayden, trying to see if he would be able to learn cause & effect. The first ones were basic baby toys that play music or light up when a button is pushed. This is a very simple learning step for most children, but for kids with processing and motor challenges this step can take quite some time to learn. Simple switch toys are all over the baby department, we particularly liked the v-tech ones (they had the best lights & sound combos).
Once he realized that his actions could affect his world in a pleasurable way, we were starting to communicate! His first real assistive tech ‘switch’ was a vibrating Big Bird. He learned to push a button & the toy would vibrate. This of course led to the Tickle Me Elmo which was a favorite of Cayden’s for years.
We also found that he worked really well with a switch called a toggle or swipe switch. It was more of a joystick style switch that he just had to push in any direction to make the object respond. As long as the switch was not at center, the toy would work. If he stopped pushing, the toy would stop. This was great for trains & other fun toys.
Next he progressed to a switch talker. This one was a very basic communication device that had the ability to have switched out sheets with pictures on them, from 1-8 pictures per page (sizes went down as numbers went up). Each size could have several pre-programmed pages so we could talk about a variety of things, just by turing a switch on the side. This one was a good starter communicator, but it required a lot of adult participation, changing the sheets frequently (which took a lot of time to create). We ended up using it for a while as a talker with connected switches on each arm of his wheelchair, and the talker in the backpack. One hand would say yes, the other no. OR one would say please, the other thank you.
MY favorite use of this setup was for Halloween. We used one to say “Trick or Treat!” the other to say “Thank you!” Cayden really got into this! The whole time we were going from house to house he would be pushing the “Trick or treat! Trick or treat! Trick or treat!” & we still had to remind him to say “Thank you!” every time. Just like a 3 year old!
We were very blessed early on, to have the Sunday School class from our church donate some money towards Cayden’s fund. That helped us be able to purchase and try a variety of switches to see which might work the best for him long term. We found he could use anything down to a small quarter sized switch, and actually the smaller switches worked better for him, because they required less effort. Placing them on the arms of his wheelchairs really worked extremely well for him, and reused that setup for qute some time. We tried head tilt switches, (he was not a fan), squeeze switches (again, not great as he did not have good hand grasp), large panel switches, ok, but required a great deal of concentration to reach & raise his arm to press the switch. His favorites were the toggle and the micros.
We were also able to borrow a lot of switches through our local assistive technology warehouse and lending library, which helped determine which toys might be worth the money. Switch toys are crazy expensive, and like any toys, kids get bored with them. Some of his longest lasting toys were a light up airplane with spinning fan propeller we got at CVS & used a switch adaptor with; an adapted Chicken Dance Elmo & a vibrating Big Bird. Other were not so popular, like the jumping frog or walking pig. He did eventually learn to use a 2 switch remote controlled car, (using his talker) which really was his favorite.
Simple switches are everywhere you look too, once you know what to look for. You don’t have to pay the big bucks to get your kids to learn this concept. Have your child see that pushing the elevator button makes the door open & bing. Pushing the accessible door buttons makes the doors swing wide. Pushing the garage door opener or the doorbell, the tv remote, the light switch. The blender buttons, the ice maker, the fan switch all are good ways to learn cause & effect. Yes, we had special (expensive) switches to access many of these things, but really it wasn’t necessary.
Why spend the money and take the time to train your non-verbal child to use switches? Well these simple steps were the first steps towards independence for Cayden. They helped him learn how to ask for things, and how to respond simply. They taught him cause and effect which… fast forward to the future, helped him learn to drive a power wheelchair, and use a more complex assistive technology device. I will share more about that tomorrow, but know, the effort is worth it in the end. Watching Cayden do something as simple as Trick-or-Treating on his own, and seeing the smile it brought to his face, made the work worthwhile.
Learning cause and effect also allows your child to start learning other things, like the consequences to actions, which in turn begins to allow discipline and training as taught in the Bible. Proverbs 29:17 tells us to “Discipline your children, and they will give you peace; they will bring you the delights you desire.” It is impossible to discipline a child or train a child in proper behavior if they do not understand the simple process whereby this action causes this result. The discipline needed to train a child into a mature adult needs to begin early, and the fact that a child is disabled doesn’t mean that they don’t need discipline sometimes.
Cayden needed to learn that he didn’t always get his way, that being naughty was not acceptable, and that his parents were in charge, just like all kids. Once we learned that Cayden could think just like any other child, he was not cut slack in our house on behavior. Whining was not encouraged (unless it was a communication tool), and tantrums were unacceptable. without the basic understanding of cause and effect, this training could not work, but for us it did. I encourage you to try it with your kids too!